Copyright 2014 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California
The ambulance stopped. ER attendants flung open the doors and strong arms pulled out the gurney carrying Mrs. Johnson. The EMT I rode with raced along with the others. He turned and called back, “Stay calm, and don’t worry. We’ll take good care of her.” His voice trailed off as he kept up with the others running through the emergency doors.
I stepped down onto the wet pavement in my bare feet, pulled down my skirt, and slipped on my shoes. The heavy rain had stopped, but a fine mist did its damage anyway. My natural curly hair, when damp, curled on its own. I pulled the straps of the trench coat around me, and then had that hollow feeling, “Oh no! Where’s my purse?”
I grumbled all the way to and through the emergency doors. My wet feet and damp nylons stuck uncomfortably to the lining inside my heels.
“Are you the girl who came in with the ole lady just now?” asked a tall and strong looking Black nurse.
“Yes. May I go be with her right now?”
“Not yet,” she said. Her voice carried a tone of sternness I remember hearing when I was a child. “I need some answers first.”
“She’s old and probably very frightened. I should be there with her,” I pleaded.
The nurse considered me silently, and then her face softened.
“Miss, she’s unconscious now. I don’t think she feels frightened. The doctors are checking her injuries. Now, I need her information.”
“She’s…,” my voice started to shake. “She’s Mrs. Virginia Johnson. She lives at 721 Bush Street, Apartment 32, San Francisco 94108.”
“Her phone number?”
“It’s…,” Sorry, I can’t remember. Do you have enough information now? I want to go see her.”
“Not just yet. Does she have any relatives nearby?”
“No, I don’t think so. She hasn’t ever spoken of any before. She’s my upstairs neighbor.”
“Did she have a purse with her when you saw her last?”
“No. And I don’t even know where mine is either,” I blurted out.
The nurse sensed my shock. With a gentle hand to my elbow, she guided me to a seat by the wall. “Stay here. I’ll get you a drink of water and get someone to clean and dress your knees. You’re a bloody mess. Did you know that? Did you beat up this old woman? There’s blood all over you!”
As she spoke, my mind sped through thoughts of how Mrs. Johnson fell against me, of banging my knees, calling for help, and Jeanne laughing raucously before finding me on the floor. The nurse’s sarcastic humor caught my attention again.
I smiled at her attempt to lighten my spirits. “I’d like that water. Thank you.”
A Chinese family across the lobby yelled for help and tried to stop a nurse or doctor to help them with an elderly man’s injuries. Three small crying children pulled at their mother’s dress. It was a pitiful scene. I took a deep breath and sat up straighter to gather some strength. I wanted to be calm as I waited for someone to give me some news about Mrs. Johnson.
My mind wandered to special times I had shared with her. On one of my regular Saturday morning visits, she had said, “Haley, dear. Why don’t you call me Ginny? We’ve become such close friends.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Johnson. But, if I call you Ginny, and my roommate and the others still call you Mrs. Johnson, they’ll tease me and say that I’m your pet. The next thing we’ll hear is that that I get more cookies than anyone else!”
“Well dear, you really do. Don’t you know? I always put a few extra cookies in your bag.”
“Oh Mrs. John…, uh, Ginny, no wonder I’m gaining weight!”
“Why don’t they call me Ginny, too?”
“That’s not a good idea! They’ll get very familiar with you and before you know it, they’ll be ordering you to make cookies for their friends, too.” I finished another bite of cookie. “And you know what? They’ll say, ‘Ginny Johnson made these delicious cookies,’ and the next thing you know, they’ll be chanting your name.”
Mrs. Johnson put her hands to her face. “What do you mean by that?”
“Ginny Johnson has a rhythm to it. Ginny Johnson, Ginny Johnson, Ginny Johnson. It sounds like a train going down the tracks!”
At that, we had laughed until our sides ached. That’s what kind of person ole Mrs. Johnson was to me. She was never too old to be young and silly.
The head EMT, the Boss, who came to my rescue earlier, entered through the automatic doors behind a crowd of people. He had two purses under his arm. Ginny’s and mine. Smiling, he handed them over to me. “Gosh, thank you. Where did you find them?”
“The night Commander from SFPD gave them to me,” he said. “I hope Mrs. Johnson will be okay, Haley.”
“How did you know my name?” I asked.
“Commander Stetson said he hadn’t the chance to look yet, so I went through these purses to find out who the lady was. I found your name in your wallet. Nice picture by the way.”
I started to fume. He invaded my privacy. What else did he see in my wallet? He must have figured out what I was thinking as my expressions usually gave away my moods.
“I’m Eric Mahoney,” he said with his hand out. “I’m the Captain in charge for the night runs in your neighborhood. Your call was our first run tonight.”
He had taken his jacket off, and I saw that his picture and engraved name on his ID tag confirmed that he was, who he said he was. “I’m not used to people going through my purse.”
“Hey, I apologize for making you uncomfortable. It’s part of my job to identify the injured parties as quick as possible.”
Just then, Eric got a call on his walkie-talkie and had to leave. I sat down and wondered if I would ever see him again. He seemed genuinely nice.
An officer dressed in dark SFPD blues came toward me. The silver star pinned on his jacket reflected the overhead tube lights. On his right side, a holstered gun peeked at me from his open jacket. On his left, a noisy collection of keys shook with his every step.
His stride moved a bit lop-sided and I tried to figure out what it was that caused the illusion. His attempt to swager, or a deficit in the length of one of his legs? I closed my eyes and listened. He had a rhythm to his walk like three notes repeating themselves.
The stern nurse brought me a paper cup of water and she handed the police officer a page from her clipboard.
It turned out to be Mrs. Johnson’s intake report. “Haley M. Levine? I’m Commander Jim Stetson.” He put out his hand for me to shake. He clamped on my hand like a vice. I never should have accepted his friendly gesture. He was one of those people who silently press your hand hard, communicating privately who really had the power and strength. He knew his handshake was going to give me pain. What a creep.
“I see from this report that Mrs. Johnson is still in the operating room.”
“She is? What’s being done? How serious are her injuries?”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “It seems no one has kept you informed.” He sat down in the chair next to mine and gave me what details he knew.
As he spoke, he shifted in his chair a few times, and each time I felt him sit closer to me than before. The heat from his body seemed to radiate about 180 degrees. I shifted further away from him and tried to do so without being obvious about it.
Abruptly he stopped talking and just stared at me. At the same time, he looked as if in deep thought. “It’s been about 45 minutes since your friend has been in the OR,” he said. Then he tapped me on my thigh with the back of his hand and said, “Let me go to the nurses’ station and see how things are going. I’ll be right back.”
My heart sunk. This mature man, another person around here with authority, seemingly nice to me, but I sensed he wanted something more. He gave me a creepy feeling, as if a shroud was about to fall on me.
I know some people who would tell me, “Haley, you’re just imagining it.” But this time, I had good reasons for my suspicions. He sat too close and he took the privilege of touching me. My instincts set off fire alarms in my head. I needed to get away from him.
Instead, I went up to where he stood chatting with the nurses. I interjected, “So, Commander, what did you find out about my friend?”
He eyed me and I could see he had not expected me to be brazen. I had learned a long time ago some techniques of breaking the isolation setup. I made like he and I were chummy, which is what he wanted me to think, but now I made the nurses think that I could be included in the patient’s private details as well.
A young nurse answered my question. “Mrs. Johnson is in Intensive Care now. It will be a while before you can go see her. You could go home and come back in the morning.”
“Why don’t I drive you home,” said the Commander. “I happen to live in your neighborhood. Further up on Bush at Mason Street,” he added.
Oh my gosh, he’s a neighborhood creep. My hunches about people are usually correct. This man was daring, and with the authority to do practically whatever he wanted. Check records, ask personal questions, and detain people. My mind went into a panic mode. Although, I had to hide my fear and, I had to get away from him as quick as possible. He was dangerous.
“Thanks,” I said with a smile, “but my roommate and her friends are waiting to hear from me about Mrs. Johnson. They’ll come pick me up.”
“It’s getting late. It’s almost 10 o’clock. It’ll save them the trip if I drove you.”
The nurse looked at me from the corner of her eye and turned away when the Commander looked in her direction.
“Thanks again, but I really want to be here with Mrs. Johnson. I’m the only person who’s close to her. I want to be here when she wakes up. I’ll just call home and let them know I’m going to stay.”
“Well, okay, suit yourself,” he said with a tone of frustration in his voice. “Have a good wait and I hope she’ll be okay. You never know with old people. One moment they’re okay and the next, poof! They’re gone.”
He walked away and left me standing there stunned. The young nurse had overheard his comments. “Don’t let him bum you out. We have to work with him,” she whispered, “but we try to avoid him every chance we get. He’s always exercising his authority around here – it makes him popular. None of us here wants anything to do with him. Did you see how he held back his temper?”
For a second I felt dizzy and grabbed onto to the edge of the counter.
“Haley, are you all right? You look pale.”
“I’ll be okay. Thanks,” My hunches were right. It wasn’t just me thinking he represented danger. For the moment, I was the cornered rabbit that got away. Though I knew, he would try again. Then I had a terrible thought. Did the Commander lie when he told Eric that he hadn’t had a chance to check the purses yet. Are my keys still in my purse? I can change the locks, but how am I ever going to feel safe again? This creep lived a block away from me on Bush Street.
Copyright 2014 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California